Zach Line was Zach Line for most of 2011. Line racked up over 1,224 yards even with missing a significant amount of the end of the season including the Mustangs BBVA Compass Bowl win.
Line averaged 122.4 yards a game behind a veteran offensive line that got a great push up front to allow Line to get into the open and make plays. Line provided his usual All-Conference USA performances every week when he was healthy, but when he wasn't the backfield was inconsistent with two true freshmen left to produce.
Sophomores Jared Williams and Rishaad Wimbley, who was a converted defensive tackle, had trouble adjusting with Line out of the lineup, but Wimbley provided a spark against Rice with 115 yards and two touchdowns and even Williams pitched in with 80 yards that game as well.
The Rice game was huge for the confidence of the young backs, but it did not translate on to the field in the bowl game as the leading Mustang rusher, Williams, had 40 yards before being carted off with his leg injury. Even though they did not provide the yardage needed to replace Line's usual production, the blocking support they provided was invaluable for J.J. McDermott to complete passes and keep the offense moving.
With Line expected to be back at 100 percent, there are very high expectations for the backfield. Line has the opportunity to set SMU records that were within reach for him if he had not gotten injured last year. Line is a touchdown machine for the Mustangs. With three games left, Line was on pace to shatter Eric Dickerson's single season mark of 19, but Line's injured forced him to settle for 17 touchdowns on the season.
You can fully expect Line to play with a chip on his shoulder again this season as people have questioned his durability, but there is not a doubt in anyone's mind that Line is not tough. Line has played through pain most of his SMU career including a separated shoulder for most of last season. The question for Line is will he start the entire season and do what everyone knows he is capable of, which is breaking every single season SMU record for running backs.
With a new quarterback at the helm, Line is going to be relied on even more to produce, but will head coach June Jones take some of the load off of Line with Wimbley, who is getting into even better shape after switching to running back half way through the 2011 season, or redshirt freshman K.C. Nlemchi, who was highly touted coming out of high school before being ineligible for last season and the spring. Williams was also expected to contribute but is likely to miss the entire 2012 season due to that gruesome injury suffered in the bowl win.
Wimbley is the back that resembles Line the most because of his good blocking, technique and size. Nlemchi would be more of a change of pace back, who is built much like Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, but can he play like him if given the chance? Whoever steps up as the backup with probably see an increased role to try and keep Line fresh down the line as the Mustangs will be trying to challenge for a Conference-USA Championship.
The running back position seems solid for the Mustangs this year if Line returns and is as productive and even more importantly as healthy as he has ever been. If Line cannot tote the rock like he has, the Mustangs passing game would be forced to step up and that is something that might be very difficult with a young receiving corps and a new quarterback.
Wes Suan, going into his fifth season, came over with June Jones from Hawaii when Coach Jones was first hired at the Hilltop and has produced the only two thousand-yard running backs in Jones' college coaching career in Shawnbrey McNeal and senior running back Zach Line. Suan tutored then true freshmen Jared Williams and Rishaad Wimbley to replace Line while he was injured late in the season and the two backs were a big reason why SMU won the BBVA Compass Bowl. Suan has been consistently producing great backs for SMU since he came on board, but Suan's big test will be replacing Line after he graduates after this season.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep:
RB- 1. Zach Line 2. Rishaad Wimbley
Others to watch:
RS-FR K.C. Nlemchi Fr. Prescott Line
Position Preview: Running Backs
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